A photographer from Maine has gathered one of the largest collections of stock moose photos.

BAXTER STATE PARK – Sooner or later, the Mooseman figured, the cow moose feeding on underwater vegetation near the far end of Sandy Stream Pond would realize it was time to nurse the newborn calf waiting patiently along the shore.

“She’ll grunt, and the calf will then stand up and say, ‘Hey mom, remember me? I’m hungry,”‘ said an equally patient Bill Silliker Jr., who stood for more than an hour on rocks along the opposite shore behind a digital camera and a 500mm telephoto lens mounted on a tripod.

Skies were overcast and the bugs bit mercilessly as the scene unfolded just as Silliker, aka the Mooseman, had predicted.

Minutes after it started raining, the moose suddenly raced through the water, leaving behind what looked like the wake from an outboard-powered skiff. Once on shore, the mother briefly nursed her calf before the pair exited into the woods.

For his time and effort, Silliker came away with some usable cow-with-calf images to add to his roughly 50,000 stock moose photos, arguably the largest such collection anywhere.

Those pictures, along with tens of thousands of shots of whitetailed deer, eagles, loons, bears and other animals, have enabled Silliker to make the transition from a 20-year career as a safety consultant for insurance companies to full-time wildlife photographer.

“I’d bet that you could count on your fingers and toes the number of people making it full time as professional wildlife photographers,” said Silliker, 55, who gave up his insurance work more than five years ago.

During the three months of the year that he spends photographing wildlife, he may be stalking moose or grizzly bears in Alaska, a state he has visited 14 times. Or he might be looking for elk or coyotes in Yellowstone National Park, endangered gray whales off the coast of Mexico or whitetailed deer in Texas.

Some of his travel is for freelance magazine assignments for which he sometimes also provides written material; on other trips he often shoots “on spec,” obtaining fresh material for his stock photo collection.

His seven books include four about moose and one each about eagles, loons and conservation. Four more books are scheduled for publication this year and next, including “The Moose Encyclopedia.” His output also includes moose calendars, Baxter State Park calendars and columns for print and online publications.

In addition, Silliker teaches eight or nine wildlife photography workshops a year and presents at least a dozen slide shows to organizations around the country.

Moose remain his favorite subject, and the one for which he is most widely known. The Mooseman handle, which he picked up about seven years ago from his Internet service provider while choosing an e-mail address, has stuck.

Silliker’s moose-sighting visit to Baxter State Park in mid-June came hours before the start of his five-day Millinocket-based workshop that drew students from as far as South Carolina.

Most of the class time was spent in the field, seeking opportunities to shoot pictures of mother moose and their new offspring as well as other species that might appear.

Silliker spotted about two dozen moose during his scouting trip that morning. The first was a 500-pound male yearling, and the photographer explained that the moose had just reached the age at which it was abandoned by the mother.

“He’s walking around, trying to find his place in the world. It’s like being a teenager and going out on your own,” he said, drawing from his knowledge of moose behavior that helps him get close to the big creatures.

Cruising the Golden Road and stopping at River Pond, Silliker managed to get to within 15 or 20 feet of a couple of moose. He calmed them with conversation during his slow approach and monitored their body language for signs they wanted him to back off.

“Hey buddy, whatcha doing?” he said in the gentle tone of a dog owner addressing his pet.

Silliker’s affection for moose is apparent, and he likes to paraphrase Will Rogers by saying he never met a moose he didn’t like.

“Moose seem to represent something from a time gone by. They kind of look prehistoric,” he said. “An animal that big – and they can go up to 1,400 pounds and 7 feet at the shoulder – could do a heck of lot of damage, but they’re pretty gentle most of the time.”

The greatest danger is likely to arise when a moose watcher gets positioned between a cow and her calf. That happened inadvertently to Silliker, who recalls how he had to ditch his camera gear and start to scramble up a tree before mother moose realized that junior was OK and ambled off.

Moose watchers also should be cautious during the fall mating season when a bull with raging hormones can turn ornery, turning on anything in his path.

Silliker, who grew up in southern Maine, had dabbled in a photo darkroom as a teenager. After graduating from the now-defunct Nasson College, he worked for the government and later for four years as a drummer in a rock band.

His interest in wildlife photography took root in the mid 1980s when he became alarmed about plans for a major development near his home in Saco, in what is now part of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge.

To bolster the case for preserving the salt marsh, he took a photographic inventory of its wildlife, clicking away at everything from snowy egrets and great blue herons to muskrats and otters.

Toting a plastic heron decoy, he would venture out to an island in the middle of the marsh and hunker beneath a camouflage cloth while waiting for the big bird to appear in his viewfinder.

“This is where I learned to camera hunt,” he said, recalling how the successful effort to block the housing development honed his skills at adapting hunting techniques to get within photo range of his quarries.

Silliker’s hobby evolved into a profession after he began his insurance job, which involved traveling across Maine to assess workplace safety and prepare reports detailing what he saw.

Armed with cameras, he would head to places rich in wildlife to write his reports. If he were to inspect a workplace in Calais, for example, he might write up his findings at the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, while keeping an eye out for an eagle or black bear he could capture on film.

What began as a sideline turned into a 40-hour-a-week job, equalling the time he spent on insurance work. As the photography business grew, he took the plunge in 1998 and quit his “day job.”

Silliker hunted deer and other game as a teenager but now hunts only with a camera. He has no quarrel with hunters, especially those seeking meat to feed their families, but worries that the expansion of Maine’s moose hunt will make the animals more wary of humans.

The solution, he said, may be to establish moose-watching zones where hunting is prohibited.

On the Net: http://www.camerahunter.com

AP-ES-06-28-03 1048EDT

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